ASSOCIATES (2010, March, v. 16, no. 3)


Access to Library Services: Breaking Barriers That May Exist for Patrons with Disabilities

Yolyndra Green
Central Piedmont Community College Library
Charlotte, NC.

Libraries serve a diverse group of patrons on a daily basis. Library staff should be aware of the populations they serve and be prepared to provide adequate information services to their patrons.

First and foremost, it is imperative for libraries to acknowledge that they have patrons with disabilities and they require the same means of information acquisition as their counterparts, the nondisabled patrons. The premise of this article is to highlight the need of library staff to be cognizant of patrons with disabilities (special needs) and what they may need in order to effectively utilize the library and all of its resources.

Libraries are now seeing that persons with disabilities access the libraries just as much as patrons without disabilities. The implementation of accessible technology (At) and computer workstations are being assessed in order to provide ease in utilizing the resources offered by the library. Unfortunately, these resources will go unused if library staff is not properly trained in the use of accessible technology or other devices to assist those with disabilities. Proper training is essential for usage. It is important for staff to remember that this is not an added responsibility to their daily job duties but is a chance for them to grow, develop, and learn new skills (“Good Staff”, 2004).

Having some understanding of the needs of patrons is important. Some patrons with disabilities already know what they want and usually know how to utilize accessible technology, while other patrons are novices and may not understand or be familiar with accessible equipment. This is when library staff can be helpful. Library staff that is properly trained can provide the insight and knowledge for patrons with disabilities to successfully access services.

Secondly, do not stereotype or stigmatize patrons with disabilities. Understand that disabilities can be visible (mobility problems) or non visible (learning/hearing impairments). Once library staff begin to eliminate these unwarranted judgments, they will be more able to interact with these patrons. Again, many patrons with disabilities have utilized accessible technology and have their own personal computers, but they need expert assistance from library staff in order to obtain the information they are seeking.
Develop a plan of attack. Research and know what technology or devices are necessary or specially related to a disability. Think on a broad spectrum: Can this piece of technology be accessed in multiple ways? What are other libraries using? Is our library helping more patrons with a specific issue? Survey patrons: ask what they would like to see. Utilize tutorials to understand software/devices, etc. Ask company representatives to come in and talk about their products (“Information Access”, 2004).

Training should be multidimensional. Staff should be trained on the equipment that will be used to provide accessibility for the patron. Being comfortable using the equipments is vital for transferring that knowledge to the patron (“Information Access”, 2004). Sensitivity training is also important. Staff should present themselves in a welcoming manner that displays their earnest interest in helping patrons.

As aforementioned, staff should be comfortable with the population and with dispensing information to the patron. It is noteworthy to mention that not all staff will be comfortable in situations where they may have to explain or convey information in an alternate manner. Administrative staff should be aware of these circumstances and not force staff to perform in these instances (“Good Staff”, 2004).


Good staff training is essential (2004). Library Technology Reports, 40, 61-64.

Information access for people with disabilities (2004). Library Technology Reports, 40, 1031.